It seemed appropriate that Marco Andretti was the first IZOD IndyCar Series driver to turn a lap at Pocono Raceway during an April 10 Firestone tire test.
Andretti’s grandfather, father and cousin competed in the Quaker State 500 on Aug. 20, 1989 – the last time an Indy car turned a lap on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Marco, who makes his home in Nazareth, Pa., was 2½ years old.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment and we belong here. This place was built for Indy cars. The facility is fabulous and was my favorite superspeedway to drive on,” said Mario Andretti, who won the 1986 race and started from the pole in ’87. “This track is different from any other superspeedway we run because of the very different radius of every corner and also different banking. It’s what I really enjoyed about this place.”
Marco Andretti was joined by four-time series champion Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports and three-time series championship runner-up Will Power of Team Penske (two Chevrolet and two Honda teams). IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Helio Castroneves, along with hundreds of spectators, also attended.
Firestone engineers used the Indianapolis 500 tire specification as a baseline and then tested a number of compound and construction alternatives. Driver feedback, race team engineer input and tire performance data collected from the test will be evaluated to determine the best tire specification to develop for the race weekend.
The aerodynamic specification of mandatory and optional elements used at Indianapolis and Auto Club Speedway were utilized for the track that features a 3,740-foot front straight and banking in the three turns of 14, 8 and 6 degrees.
The track lap record is 211.715 mph set in 1989 by Emerson Fittipaldi in qualifying, which was breached by almost 3 mph in the morning session.
“It was kind of like a higher-speed short oval because you still have to work, especially Turn 1,” Andretti said. “For me, it was about finding the limit in Turn 3, getting a feel for the banking. It will be interesting trying to find the balance between Turn 1 and 3. It’s like Nazareth on steroids.”
Added Franchitti, who competed at Pocono in 2008 in a stock car: “There’s always compromise, especially at a track with three such different corners. There’s the big banking in Turn 1, almost flat tracking in Turn 3 and the tunnel turn. You’re always going to be better at one corner than another. The trick is to figure out which one you can give away the most in order to still be competitive.
“You have to figure that out, which one is the one you can give away something to be perfect on the one or two other corners. Turn 3 flat out defies logic. The difference from being here in 2008 is remarkable. This was a bumpy old place before. Now it’s very, very smooth. There has obviously been a great deal of investment in the track, the SAFER Barrier in different places, as well. That’s really allowed INDYCAR as a group to come back here.
“All those investments have been made. I said at the time to run an IndyCar around here would be a blast, and it is. It’s going to be a very good race.”
The race will be the second leg of the superspeedway events in which a $1 million bonus will be awarded by Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka to the competitor who wins the races at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway and the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway.
From 1971-80, the Indy car Triple Crown consisted of 500-mile races at Pocono Raceway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Ontario (Calif.) Speedway. When Ontario closed in 1980, it was replaced by Michigan International Speedway and the Triple Crown lasted until 1989.
Al Unser is the only driver to have won all three races in the same calendar year (1978, driving the No. 2 First National City Travel Checks-sponsored car for team owner Jim Hall).